BEVERLY, Mass. — A statue of a young man will soon sit on a bench within Vietnam Memorial Plaza at One Ellis Square, serving as a reminder of the last place those drafted went before being picked up and shipped off to the Vietnam War nearly 50 years ago.
Across the street was the former draft office, above where the Golden Hanger currently operates on Cabot Street, and in thinking about a new memorial for the square, a group of city veterans wanted to make sure it reflected the significance of the space, a testament to a brutal war overseas that many back home didn’t support.
Putting in the memorial is the final chapter in a total revitalization of the square. Nearly $222,000 — between fundraising and Community Preservation Act money — was pumped into the work to add new bricks, benches and trees.
The group of Beverly Vietnam War veterans has been working on the memorial for the past year, from crafting a request for proposals that went nationwide to thoroughly examining each of the 10 submissions. With a design chosen, they hope Veterans Day ceremonies can take place in the square next year.
Colorado-based artist Jane DeDecker was chosen as the artist for the sculpture. A variety of plaques will also be placed throughout the square — one each of a map of Vietnam, a history of the plaza and its connection to the draft office, a history of the Vietnam War, plus the names and ranks of the 11 Beverly men killed in action. There will also be a plaque about the Medal of Honor and recipient Stephen Doane, who received the medal after he was killed in Vietnam.
“I think it’s professional, very educational, and it will be very much an attraction for the city of Beverly,” said Victor Capozzi, one of three Beverly Vietnam veterans who helped in the selection process.
Capozzi, along with fellow Vietnam veterans Jerry Guilebbe, a former city veterans’ agent, and Chuck Clark, commander of Beverly Vietnam Veterans, plus Cory Paulette, who heads the auxiliary arm of BVV, worked alongside Denise Deschamps, the city’s economic development planner, and Kevin Harutunian, chief of staff to Mayor Mike Cahill, worked collaboratively on choosing an artist and design.
The new memorial will cost roughly $54,000 and about $25,000 of that has already been raised between the BVV and money left over from the square redesign project.
This will replace the former Vietnam memorial, which included a flower planter and a plaque.
“Because that’s the bus stop where we went when we were 18, he’ll be 18,” Capozzi said of the sculpture of the young man, adding that he’ll be wearing a Beverly High School letter jacket and hat and will have a gym bag.
“You were told to bring a change of clothes,” Clark said.
For the three veterans, the sculpture symbolizes a moment in their lives that was all too real. Guilebbe and Capozzi were drafted — Capozzi deferred for a year — while Clark said he joined the U.S. Air Force since he knew he would be drafted.
More than 58,000 U.S. military died in Vietnam, according to online records. For those who survived, coming home was not a happy event due to the tumultuous political climate of the time and the anti-war protests.
“We weren’t welcomed home,” Clark said. “We were seen as baby killers, we were called baby killers. We were spit on. … I mean, you didn’t want to talk about your military service really.”
The negativity surrounded young men who didn’t have decide whether or not they should serve — as Clark said, with the draft, “we didn’t have much of a choice.”
Capozzi recalled landing in Oakland, California, where soldiers returning were brought — the planes landed only at night. Wearing a full uniform at the airport awaiting a plane ride home, Capozzi recalled people pointing and staring at him. He quickly went to the men’s bathroom and changed.
“It’s just the way it went,” he said.
Overall, the group is proud of how the design came out.
“It’s something that will be there hopefully forever, representing something very important,” Harutunian said.
Information from: The Salem (Mass.) News, http://www.salemnews.com